What Shall We Offer to the Virgin?

by St. Photios the Great

Such things the archangel was saying, drawing the spotless maiden to assent. But to this what was the reply of the honored virgin, the heavenly chamber, the holy mountain, the sealed fountain, kept for Him only who had sealed it?

“Since,” says she, “thou hast clearly explained that the Holy Ghost shall come upon me, I no longer demur, I no longer object.

Be it unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1.38).

If I am judged worthy for the Lord, I will gladly serve His will. If the Builder desires the thing built to become a temple to the Builder, let Him construct a house unto Himself as He has pleased. If the Creator rests on His creature, let Him mold in me His flesh as He knows how and wishes.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word (Lk. 1.38).

Let thy words be unto me fulfilled in the act. Let thy words be unto me in accordance with the deeds.”

The holy and uncorrupted Virgin for her part, having shown in such words her obedience to the Lord’s ambassador, put an end to the conversation. As for us, what shall we offer to the Virgin? What words of praise shall we weave for her? What other, than those whose beginning Gabriel has first provided to us, saying,

“Hail much-graced one, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk. 1.28, 41).

Hail, because we see the sun of righteousness rising out of thee, illuminating both the heavenly and the earthly order, driving away the murk of error, and irradiating the universe with the splendor of Grace. Hail, much-graced one, because having raised for us without husbandry the soul-nourishing grain, thou hast destroyed the seeds of the soul-corrupting growth. Hail, because thou hast brought to all of us the ambrosia of the life-giving bread, baked in thy flaming womb as in an oven, having removed like yeast the pest of the death-giving food. Hail, because thou hast made the tree of life bear fruit for us, which withers the offshoots of the tree of decay and yields the sweetness of knowledge. Hail, much-graced one, because thou hast stored away the pearl of great price, conveying the wealth of salvation to the ends of the universe. Blessed art thou among women, because thou hast requited the discomfiture of woman’s transgression, having turned the reproach of deceit into a laudation of the sex; because in thee, a virgin, He who first molded Adam out of virgin earth, today remolds man from thy virginal blood; because, having woven the fleshy garment of the Word, thou hast covered up the nakedness of the first-formed. Why should I enumerate each count? Hail, much-graced one, because super-human things were wrought in thee, and the blessing of all good things has bloomed for us through thy pregnancy.

~St. Photius of Consantinople, Homily V. The Annunciation, 6-7

HT

 

 

 

Discourse on the Theotokos

by Cyril of Jerusalem

THE TWENTIETH EXPLANATION WHICH THE HOLY PATRIARCH, APA CYRIL, ARCHBISHOP OF JERUSALEM, COMPOSED ON THE LIFE OF THE HOLY THEOTOKOS MARY.  AND HE DECLARED ALSO THAT HER PARENTS WERE A MAN AND A WOMAN, LIKE THE PARENTS OF EVERY OTHER PERSON.  AND HE SPAKE ALSO CONCERNING THE DAY WHEREIN SHE WENT TO REST, THAT IS TO SAY, THE TWENTIETH DAY OF THE MONTH OF TOBE (16 January).  IN THE PEACE OF GOD!  AMEN.

When a rich man of high position wisheth to invite his friends to a breakfast or to a dinner, doth he not first of all sit down before those who are to be bidden are invited, and set out in array the various kinds of food wherewith he may stir up the appetite of those who see them, and make them to taste (i.e. partake) of them?  And doth he not then cause his slaves to be summoned, and send them forth to his friends [inviting them] to the feast?  And when they have come in, and have laid themselves down [on the cushions], doth not he who hath invited them give unto them first of all fine wine which hath a rich perfume, and which gratifieth the palate?  [And after this doth he not make his slaves] bring in all the meats, one after the other, and each one different and the less dainty than the last?  Now he who inviteth [p. 627] his friends doeth this so that those who are sitting at meat may not day, ‘We have already tasted this [dish].’  Even thus is [my] invitation unto you this day, although ye may say concerning the things which I shall declare unto you, ‘We have heard this already,’ even as Paul saith concerning the Athenians, ‘The Athenians wish to hear nothing except some new thing’ (Acts 17.21).  And although David saith, ‘Sing unto the Lord a new song, his blessing is in the church of the saints’ (Ps 149.1), yet the Gospel also saith, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like unto a rich man’ (Cf. Matt 13.45, 52; 22.2).  And ye have also heard of the honourableness of the Cross, and of its discovery, and of how the Gentiles and the Jews are coming into the knowledge of Jesus the Christ, and of how Gastor, the Jewish nobleman, hath believed with his whole house.  And I Cyril, the least of all men, instructed him in the elements of the Faith, and I baptized him into the great Resurrection of the Christ, and he became a great and righteous and chosen vessel, loving the Faith of the Son of God.  And I also baptized a large number of Samaritans, one of whom was Isaac, the handicraftsman (?), and he became a chosen Christian of Christ.

I mention all these, O my beloved, because I have already in times past directed your love to them.  But the words of God can never become rusty, and they are sweeter than honey, and [more savory] than salt, according to what our father David said,

‘Thy words are sweeter in my throat than honey’ (Ps 19.10). 

Now, therefore, let us remember the pressing liability which is upon us, and let us see that we pay back some small part thereof.  And if we are not able to pay back the whole of it, let us give two mites at least, even as did that poor woman who was blessed (Mark 12.42; Luke 21.2), or a denarius, that is to say, a stater, the like of that which Peter found in the mouth of the fish, and which he paid as tribute on behalf of himself and his Lord (Matt 17.27). 

For if we give only a very little of that which we have we shall be upbraided like him that giveth nothing at all.  Let us understand accurately in whose Name we have been invited into this place to-day, and Who it is Who hath invited us: it is Jesus, the God of truth, Who hath invited us, in remembrance of His mother, who became to Him a throne and a place of abode.  Since He hath invited us it would be most unseemly for us to shew ourselves sluggish, and not fulfill that which we have promised you in the argument of this commentary.  This is the day of the Holy Offering, which is wholly pure in soul and spirit. 

This is the day wherein the Queen, the mother of the King of Life, tasted death like every other human being, because she was flesh and blood.  And, moreover, she was begotten by a human father, and brought forth by a human mother, like every other man.  Let Ebion now be ashamed, and Harpocratius, these godless heretics who say in their madness that ‘she was a force (or, abstract power) of God which took the form of a woman, and came upon the earth, and was called “Mary,” and this force gave birth to Emmanuel for us.’  Doth it not follow from thy imaginative words, which are wholly incongruous, that Christ did not take flech upon Himself?  Without flesh and without body ‘forces’ would be beings without bodies, and they could not die like mortal men.  Notwithstanding [this], come hither ye deaf and blind and foolish, O Bion and Harpocration, and I will question you.  If ye say that Mary is a ‘force,’ a ‘force’ will die.  Who is it then whose falling asleep the whole of the inhabited world commemorateth by keeping a festival this day?  Is it not Saint Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ? 

But pay attention to me with a tranquil mind and listening ears, and I will entreat the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, to illumine my heart with the knowledge of all the Scriptures of God, so that I may explain clearly to you, in gladness, the life of the holy Virgin Mary, and what her race was, and what were the names of her parents according to the first genealogy which is written in the Scriptures.  For we are wholly unable to follow the fictitious statements which are found in the fabulous lives of her, and which resemble the writings of the Greek poets, who in their works on theology relate mere myths about their gods; neither will we invent lives of her in order to gratify her.  Now every gift of grace is of God.  Of what kind is the gift of grace which came to man or to woman from Adam until this day?  Understand what happened unto her, O wise virgin, since thou art in heaven, and art [near] the throne of Him who fashioned us.  This gift of grace was not given unto the Patriarchs, who enjoyed friendly intercourse with God, and who ate with Him, and they never expected in the smallest degree that He would come in their time.  This gift of grace was not given unto the Prophets, but they continued to prophesy the advent of the Word of God until He came and dwelt in the womb of Mary the Virgin, who became the mother of the King Christ.  Shew me, [O Paraclete], who their kinsfolk were, and the house of their father, so that I may inform every one concerning the exalted position of their family.

    And behold, the Virgin stretcheth out her hand to me, saying, ‘O Cyril, if thou wishest to know concerning my family, and concerning the house of my fathers, hearken.  I was a child promised to God, and my parents dedicated me [to Him] before I came into the world.  My parents who produced me were of the tribe of Judah and of the House of David.  My father was Joakim, which is, being interpreted, “Keopa.”  My mother was Anna, who brought me forth, and who was usually called “Mariham.”  I am Mary Magdalene, because the name of the village wherein I was born was “Magdalia.”  My name is “Mary, who belongeth to Kleopa.”  I am Mary who belongeth to Iakkobos (James), the son of Joseph the carpenter, into whose charge they committed me.  Enquire in the Scriptures, and thou shalt find abundant information concerning these things about which thou art asking questions.  In ancient days when Joshua, the son of Nun, divided up the land [which he had taken] among the children of Israel, the tribe of Judah obtained for its inheritance Jebuselia, that is to say, Jerusalem and the region about it.  From that time each of the Twelve Tribes hath remained in the region of its inheritance.  No tribe hath been in the habit of entering into the country of another tribe and of acquiring an inheritance therein. or property therein, and no man hath married a wife, and no woman hath taken a husband, from any tribe except their own, until the time when the Word of the Father was graciously pleased to come and to rescue us from the slavery of sin.  And besides this He put on our flesh in a woman according to what He wished, [for] there was none to deliver us.’

 Now I have made an examination of the ancient histories of Ioseppos (Josephus) and Eierennaios (Irenaeus), [and] those of the Hebrews which I have searched out for myself, and I am convinced of the correctness of that which I am now going to say.  Mary was descended from the Jews, through the tribe of David, according to the blessing which the Lord spake, I mean to Abraham, saying, ‘In thy seed all the peoples of the earth shall receive a blessing’ (Gen 12.3).  Abraham begat Isaac, Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah and his brethren.  Our Lord was descended from the tribe of Judah, according to the blessing of Abraham, [which was] then and there fulfilled.  Inasmuch as each one of you is anxious to know what I am going to say, [I will tell you] what our fathers have taught us, according to what the Psalmist David saith, ‘The things which our fathers have declared shall not be hidden from their children of the generation which is to come’ (Ps 78.3-4).

At the time when the Virgin was born there was a certain district of Jerusalem which was commonly called ‘Magdalia,’ and there was situated upon it a small village which people called by this name, and in this village were a few people who were Jews.  And among these people was a man who was commonly called ‘David,’ and he was rich in possessions of every kind.  He observed with great diligence the Law of Moses and the Prophets, which was sweeter to him than honey, and he performed manifold acts of charity to those who were in want; and he was awaiting the Redeemer of Israel, Who was to come shortly.  And this man was lying on his bed one evening, and he was caught in an ecstasy, and it seemed to him as if some one said unto him, ‘O Aaron, the Redeemer of Israel shall spring forth from thy family, for the time hath come when the root shall put forth fruit.’  And he said within himself, ‘What now is the meaning of this vision which I have seen?  But, whatever it may be, whatsoever God wisheth let that happen.’  And he had living there with him a woman who was a believer, and her name was Sara; and she bore unto him a man child, and his father called him Kleopa.  And his father David gave unto him to wife Anna, the daughter of his brother Aminadab, and the two of them were pleasing before God.  And it came to pass that after a time they gave all their possessions to Joakim their son, and to Anna his wife, together with all the village of Magdalia.  Now Anna was barren, and she had never borne a son, and the matter was one of anxiety to them.  And they said, ‘Who then is there to inherit our possessions?’

And it came to pass that after certain days (or, many days) Joakim said unto Anna, ‘Let us go to the Temple of the Lord, and let us make supplication unto the Lord, that He may shew mercy unto us, and may grant us our petition which we shall ask of Him.’  And they rose up and went into the Temple of the Lord, and they made supplication unto Him, and they paid their vows to the priest, and they prayed unto the Lord with their faces flat upon the earth.  And Joakim prayed, saying, ‘Lord God Almighty, Who didst hear our father Abraham in his old age, and didst graciously give to him Isaac, his child of promise, hearken Thou unto me also this day, and do Thou give me the seed of men.   If this come to pass, and Thou dost give unto us either a man child I or a woman child, we will dedicate him to Thy Temple all his days, and he shall  minister  unto Thee.’   And straightway a voice came to them out of the place of the altar, saying, ‘Joakim Kleopathe prayer which thou hast made to God hath been heard, and thy petition hath been fulfilled. Now therefore arise, and get thee into thy house, for the grace that hath come to thee hath never been [bestowed upon] any of the people of old.’  And Joakim thought that it was the priest who was talking to him in the place of the altar, and he answered and said unto him, ‘May it be according to thy word, O my lord!’  And Joakim and Anna rose up and parted to their house. 

And after certain days Joakim visited Anna, and she conceived, and all those who were acquainted with her rejoiced with her. And when the days were fulfilled for her to bring forth she gave birth to a woman child, according to the Providence of God; and the grace of God was upon her face.  And her parents called her ‘…Mary,’ and she increased in beauty (?) every day, and all those who saw her marvelled at her because of the glory of God that surrounded her  at all times.  And when three years were fulfilled the child was weaned from her mother’s milk.  And Joakim said unto Anna his wife, ‘Let us give unto the Lord what we have vowed to Him, lest He be angry with us.’  And they made themselves ready, together with their offerings of first-fruits, and they took them into the Temple with Mary their daughter, and they gave their offerings of first-fruits to the   priests who were ruling at that time, that is to say, to Simeon and Zacharias.  And they took their daughter Mary and gave her into the hands of the priests, Saying unto them, ‘Behold the child whom God hath graciously given unto us.  We give her as a votive offering in the Temple of the Lord, so that she may minister unto Him all her days.’  And the priests blessed Joakim and Anna, saying, ‘According as ye have vowed so have ye paid unto the Lord, Who will bestow His good gifts upon you in such wise that ye shall have a son in the place of this daughter Mary whom ye have given to the Lord, and whose name shall be known throughout the world.’  And they said, ‘Amen.  So be it!’  And they returned to their house.  And they were in the habit of visiting their daughter once each month, when they carried to her whatsoever things of which she had need. And their little virgin daughter ministered in the Temple with the other women, who were aged virgins, and they taught her to work with her hands.  And when she had become somewhat master of herself she used to go alone into the court of the Temple, but no man whatsoever saw her with the exception of the priest and her father.    Her  food consisted  of  bread  and water and a few green herbs, and she did not fast for long periods at a time; in short, it is [impossible to describe] her beauty of body, and soul, and spirit.

And when she had completed the fifteenth year of her age the Shepherd was pleased to come and visit His sheep, and to snatch them away from the claws of the wolf, and the King was pleased to redeem those who belonged to Him and were in captivity in the hands of the Tyrant.  And Gabriel the Archangel was sent from God to the holy Virgin Mary, and he announced to her the glad tidings that the Saviour was coming to her. But peradventure thou wilt say unto me, ‘At what time, or in what manner(?), did these things take place?  [Tell us] so that we may be certain about the words which thou sayest.’  I will answer thy questions according to the Scriptures.  God sent Gabriel on the seventh day of the month Xanthikos (April), which is the new moon Parmoute, in the year five thousand five hundred; on this [day] was conceived the Life of all of us, and He was born on the twenty-ninth day of the month Khasileue (November), which is Khoiak, in the fourth year of Augustusthe Emperor of the Romansin the fifteenth year of the life of Mary.  The place wherein He was born was Khabratha, which is Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, in the second year of Herod, the Governor all Judea.  When Christ was brought to Egypt he was two years and four months old. But thou wilt in any case say unto me, ‘Why did Joseph and Mary depart from Palestine and go so far away as Egypt by themselves, for it is said  that there were twenty  halting places before they came into Egypt? And how was it that they were able to perform such a wearisome journey which necessitated so many days of difficult travelling?  And where could they find food to eat?’ I will tell thee, O thou unbelieving and feeble person, the things which thou shalt set in thy remembrance, and I will speak unto thee from out of the Scriptures. 

Peradventure thou wilt say unto me, ‘The angel took Habakkuk to Babylon from Jerusalem, a road on which there were seventy halting places, and which required a very long time to travel over.’  Habakkuk, the Scripture saith, placed the leaves of bread in a basket, and he took them with the wine and the [other] food, and went to the field to carry them to his reapers.  And the angel of the Lord lifted him up by the hair of his head under the impulse of his spirit, that is to say, by the strength of his flight, and he carried him straightway to the place that was above the den of lions in Babylon, and he gave food to Daniel, and he and the reapers ate of this food on the same day.  If now the power of the angel was great enough to do this, then the Lord of the angels could come to Egypt riding upon a light cloud, and, indeed, it was by means of the light cloud that God came to Egypt. And when the young Child came into Egypt He recalled to mind the works of Egypt, [for] He rode upon the light cloud which transporteth those who are without sin.  The spotless Lamb and the old man Joseph came into Egypt under the guidance (or, direction) of that whereupon they rode.   And the mountains and the rocks levelled themselves before them, and smooth roads whereon they could walk easily made themselves ready for their feet, and they crossed rivers and streams without the help of ship or sailor.  In short, our Saviour came into Egypt by the power of His Father, and He passed three years there, and He proclaimed to the Egyptians what they ought to do whilst He was at the breast of His mother Mary.  And when Herod had received the punishment which he deserved for the slaughter of the innocent children whom he had put to death, the words which are written in the prophet, saying; ‘I called My Son out of Egypt’ (Hos 11.1) were fulfilled.  And God sent a message unto His beloved Son, and His mother Mary and Joseph by a ………… guard, and He brought them out of Egypt, and settled them in Nazareth.   All these things have I related to you, beloved ones, because of the godless heretics, who say that Mary is a ‘force’ (or, abstract power).  Behold, I have already pointed out to you in the words which I have addressed to you, saying that Mary was flesh like all other folk, and that the Lamb of God, Who took away the sins of the world, took flesh in her.

And now I wish to relate to you an incident that happened to me. There was a certain monk who lived in the neighbourhood of Maioma of Gaza, who had received instruction in the heresy of Bion and of Harpocratius his master, of whose books he obtained possession, and he expounded them publicly, and he became filled with blasphemies and with falsehoods, and he masqueraded with great pride and arrogance, and he deceived all the people who were in that neighbourhood by his pretensions, through those who used to come to the holy places there to pray.  And >the things which he proclaimed in his corrupt heterodoxy were repeated to me, and I sent two ministers to the Bishop of Gaza, and I said unto him, ‘I beseech thee to seek out on my behalf a certain monk who is in the neighborhood of Maioma, and do thou send him to me, together with his books.’

And when the bishop had received the letter and read it, he caused search to be made for that monk everywhere.  And when they had brought him to the bishop he said unto him, ‘My son, rise up and go to Jerusalem to the archbishop.  If thou dost not go he will send for thee and thy books.  He knoweth about thy doctrine, and about thy preaching, and whose it is.’ And the monk replied, ‘I will take my books and I will go to him in Jerusalem.’  And the ministers took him to Jerusalem to the archbishop, who said unto him, ‘We have heard, O brother, that thou art teaching a strange doctrine, and that thou art changing the voices of the Holy Gospels.’  The monk, [who was called Annarikhus, said unto him, ‘My teaching (or, doctrine) is not a strange doctrine, but is that of our Fathers the Apostles,  and our own Fathers taught it everywhere as sound doctrine.’  And Apa Cyril said unto him, ‘Who mere thy Fathers?’  And the monk said, ‘Satorand Ebion, who succeeded him.’  And the archbishop said unto him, ‘Thou hast become a disciple and hast made thyself a mule-like beast under the stupid yoke of the chariot of the Devil.’  And the monk said unto him, ‘ Harpocratius used to cast out devils.’  And the archbishop said unto him,’ Shew me by what meands thou dost cast out devils, and >in what way thou dost preach the Gospel, and what thou dost say concerning Christ and His Birth according to the flesh, and concerning His mother who brought Him forth, and concerning His death which was full of salvation, and His resurrection from the dead after the third day.’

And that monk replied, ‘It is written in the [Gospel] to the Hebrews that when Christ wished to come upon the earth to men the Good Father called a mighty “power” in the havens which was called “Michael”, and committed Christ to the care thereof.  And the “power” came down into the world, and it was called Mary and >[Christ] was in her womb for seven months.  Afterwards she gave birth to Him, and he increased in stature, and He chose the Apostles, who preached Him in every place.  He fulfilled the appointed time that was decreed for Him.  And the Jews became envious of Him, they >hated Him, they changed the custom of their Law, and they rose lip against Him and >laid a trap and caught Him, and they delivered Him to the governor, and he gave Him to >them to crucify >Him.  And after they had raised Him up on >the Cross the Father took Him up into heaven unto Himself.’  And the Patriarch Cyril >said unto the monk, ‘Who sent thee about to >teach these things?’  And that monk said unto him, ‘The Christ said, ‘Go ye forth into all the world, and teach ye all the nations in My Name in every place. (Matt 28.19-20)’  And Apa Cyril said unto him, ‘Dost [p. 638] thou take the Gospels literally?’ And the monk said, ‘Yea, absolutely, my lord Father.’  And the archbishop answered and said, ‘Where in the Four Gospels is it said that the holy Virgin Mary, the mother of God, is a ” force “?’  And the monk answered and said, ‘In the [Gospel] to the Hebrews.’  And Apa Cyril answered and said, ‘Then, according to thy words, there are Five Gospels?’  And that monk replied, ‘Yea, there are.’   And Apa Cyril answered and said, ‘What is the name of the fifth Gospel? for I should like to from whence this doctrine concerning Christ is derived, and to understand it.  The Four Gospels have written above them: “[The Gospel] according to Matthew”; “[The Gospel] according to Mark”; “[The Gospel according to Luke”; “[The Gospel] according to John.”  Whose is the fifth Gospel?’  And that monk said unto him, ‘It is [the Gospel] that was written to the Hebrews.’  And Saint Cyril answered and said, ‘If thou speakest the truth, O brother, must we not then reject the teaching of the Christ, and follow the misleading doctrine of the Hebrews?  God forbid!  The Hebrews wish for doctrine of this kind greatly, so that they may cast a blemish upon our purity and honour, even as it was said by the Christ in times of old, “Thou castest out devils by Berzeboul.” (Matt 12.24 par.)  And is it not written, “He who doth not confess that Jesus the Christ hath come in the flesh is a deceiver and an Antichrist, like thyself”? (2 John 7)  And again, “Whosoever shall come unto thee, and bring a doctrine that is different from thine, receive him not into thy house, neither say unto him, Hail!” (2John 10)  And again, “If they were of us they would have been like unto us; they came forth from us, but they are not of us.” (1 John 2.19)  Which meaneth that they utter the Name of Christ with their mouths only and that they make a pretence in their hearts.  They heap up wrath for themselves in the day of the Judgement of Truth and the wrath that is from Jesus the Christ. The doctrine of [p. 639] the Jews cannot be joined unto the doctrine of Christ.  What connection can there be between the agreement of the [Gospel to the] Hebrews and the agreement of the Holy Gospels?  But those heresies must spring up which Epiphanius describes in his work AgkurwtV saying, “The error in each one of them is different, but evil is implanted in them all.”’  And Annarikhus the monk said unto Apa Cyril, ‘The night cannot contend against the day, neither can darkness stand before the light.  I am vanquished by thy great wisdom, and I know that I have made a mistake.  Let thy fatherhood grant repentance unto me!  And all these things which I have overthrown I will  build  up again.  But take my books, and burn them in the fire, and my possessions do thou give to the poor.  My heart followeth thy words and [those of] the Holy Gospel.’

   And when I( i.e. Cyril) had burned his books, I said unto him ‘Who…[One leaf wanting]…He to Whom no form can be assigned was born [in the form of] a son.  He was the Beginning, and He Who had no beginning was brought forth.  Now there was a beginning to that humanity, but the Godhead had no beginning, and was without form.  And no addition took place to the Trinity in such wise that the Trinity, which consisteth of Three [Persons], became Four [Persons].  One sunodoV entered one who was of two natures, and one son was brought forth, a unity of the flesh without any diminution.  For He was neither changed in His nature, nor reduced in His strength, nor was He separated from His Ancient Begetter, that is to say, the Beginning.  But the oneness of the flesh of God received one Nature.  As for the coming to us of the Blessed Offspring God the Word, it is the miracle that was hidden in God from eternity, I mean the miracle of God Who made Himself man.  An impenetrable mystery is the Nature that abolished the curse and destroyed the sentence of death, and taught us concerning the foundation, which had no beginning, of the Only-begotten One, Jesus the Christ, our Lord, the production, according to the flesh, of the womb of Saint Mary, the perpetual Virgin, in whose holy house we are I gathered together this day to commemorate the day of her death.  If thou wilt confess these things with a true and sincere belief then we will prepare to receive thee into the fold of all the sheep of the loving Shepherd Christ.  Have no doubt about the matter; thou must either follow the words which I have taught thee or thou must get outside this place.’  And Annarikhus opened his mouth and anathematized the heresy of Ebion and Harpocratius, saying, ‘Anathema be every heresy; the things which thou [Ebion] hast said unto me are not to be believed.  And now, O my father, receive thou me into good fellowship with thyself.’  And when I knew that his mind had received the light I baptized him in the name of the Lady of us all, Saint Mary, whose day is this day.  Finally he went to a monastery in the Mount of Olives, and he builded upon the foundation of the Apostles until the day of his death.

   I have now described unto you the whole of the story concerning the heresy of Ebion who said, ‘Mary, the mother of the Lord, is a ” force “.’  Let us now return to I that which we promised to you >in the introduction to our explanation, that is to say, the [narrative >of] the end of the life of the holy Virgin Mary.  And I wish also to go back to what I promised from the beginning, and >to declare it.  Tell me, O Gabriel, thou mediator between God and men, what is the history of the kinswoman of Mary, this Elisabeth?  I am listening to thee, and I hear thee preaching about her saying, ‘Behold, Elisabeth the kinswoman [of Mary] conceived a son in her old age, according to the prophecy in the Gospel.  The parents of the Virgin were descended from the tribe of Judah, and Elisabeth was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and Aaron was descended from the tribe of  Levi.  Thus this matter is twofold, and it reduceth itself to two persons.  Judah and Levi were brethren, each of the other, and one father, that is to say, Jacob, and one mother produced them both.  Since Elisabeth was a daughter of Levi, and Mary was descended from Judah, they are then daughters of two brethren; are they not then kinswomen, each of the other?  I have also stated that the little Virgin Mary was in the Temple, and that she remained by herself before the archangel Gabriel came to her with a sweet odour, and Zacharias, the husband of Elisabeth, spake unto her words of praise concerning the Virgin.  I have said that she was in the Temple before the gift of the Lord was given unto her, and that there was no limit to her beauty, and the Temple was wont to be filled with angels because of her sweet odour, and they used to come to visit her for the sake of her conversation.  And when Elisabeth heard these things she set out from Dorine and departed to Jerusalem, and she went into the Temple of the Lord.  And when she saw Mary she marvelled at the grace of God which was on her face, and they saluted each other and sat down.  And Elisabeth said unto Mary, ‘Thy soul and body have been joined unto the Lord from thy childhood, and thou hast followed Him with thy whole heart so truly that the redeemer of Israel shall proceed from thee.’  And Mary said, ‘Blessed be the God of Israel, Who hath appointed me for Himself from my childhood to minister unto Him with perfect service.’  And the two women comforted each other from the Law and the Prophets for many days. And afterwards Elisabeth returned to Dorine to her ordinary life, and she made it a habit to visit the Virgin several times that yearand she ministered unto her every need until the day when Gabriel came unto Mary and said unto her, ‘Behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman hat conceived.’ (Luke 1.36)  Behold, moreover, the matter is plain that Mary and Elisabeth were kinswomen, each of the other, from what is written in the Gospel, the which. I have already declared to you.

Behold nowlet us return to the previous subject which we left [for a short time], because there is no trouble whatsoever in discussing the queen, who became the mother of the King, and he who listeneth is not wearied by her history.  It is like unto one who goeth to draw mater from a spring; as soon as he stretcheth forth his hand to draw therefrom the spring sendeth forth water in great abundance.  And this is my own case when I begin [to describe] the life of the Virgin, for the fountain of my speech bubbleth up abundantly, and I cry out with the Prophet, David, and I lift up my voice, saying, ‘Thou hast made me wiser than all my teachers,’ (Ps 119.99) and again, ‘The manifestation of Thy words is what illumineth us.’ (Ps 119.130)  For I looked round about me, saying, ‘Where shall I begin my discourse?’  Then I remembered the words which the Saviour spake unto His mother when He was hanging upon the Cross, ‘Then woman, behold thy son!’ referring to John.  Then He turned to John, and said unto him, ‘Behold thy mother!’ (John 19.26) and from that day the disciple took her into his house and ministered unto her with service of every kind, even as doth a slave who serveth his lord.  And she loved him even as a mother loveth her son. And she used to do many mighty works, and perform healings among the people, which were like unto those that were wrought by Jesus our God, but she never permitted the Apostles to know [about them], for she fled from the praise of men.  And the Apostles were closely associated with her at all times when they were preaching.  She gathered round about her a multitude of virgins, she assisted them, and she made them to rejoice in the benefits of virginity–she who had drawn nigh unto her God, Who at length came and took up His abode in her womb for nine months–and she shewed the way, and that the entrance into heaven, to her beloved Son, was good and without obstacle.

And it came to pass that for ten years after our Lord rose from the dead, according to what the Ancient History of Josephus and Irenaeus and the Hebrew authorities say, John and Mary lived in the same house in Jerusalem. And it came to pass on a certain day, for so he saiththat the holy Virgin Mary called John and said unto him, ‘Go and summon to me Peter and James, and let them come to me here in this place.’  And John went in haste and summoned them, and they came, and the three [Apostles] sat down before her.  And she said unto them, ‘Hearken unto me, O ye whom God hath chosen to preach the Gospel throughout the world.  Ye have seen with your own eyes the mighty deeds and wonders which God performed in the time when He was in the world with you, and ye have no need of any to bear testimony to you. Ye three did He take up to the Mount of Olives; and your ears did hear the Voice of the Father bearing witness concerning Him, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in Whom is My desire.” Ye saw the sufferings which the Jews inflicted upon Him when He was raised upon the Cross, and that they put Him to death, and that His Father raised Him up from the dead on the third day.  And I went to the tomb, and He appeared unto me, and He spake unto me, saying, “Go and inform My brethren what things ye have seen.  Let those whom My Father hath loved come to Galilee.”  And He came in to you, the door being closed, and He spake unto you concerning the Kingdom which is in the heavens.  And at the end of forty days ye were all gathered together in one place on the Mount of Olives, and he was there with you.  And the Lord came again to you, and he said unto you, “I have fulfilled the dispensation which was laid down for Me in the world, and I am now going up to my Father.”  And ye replied, “Wilt thou depart and leave us I orphans? ”  And he said“When I go I will send unto you the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, in My place, after many days, even until Pentecost.  But behold, to her who was unto Me a dwelling-place I was a Son in the flesh, and she is under your care now.  But I will be with you until the end of the world.”  And when He had said these things unto us He separated Himself from us a little, and ascended the mountain on the east, and mounted upon the Cherubim, and departed into the heights in the flesh; the which He had received from me.  And thousands of thousandsand tens of thousands of tens of thousands [of angels] sang hymns to Him, and they followed Him with their eyes until He entered heaven.  And we saw two men who were standing close to him, and they said, “Ye men, why are ye looking up into heaven?  This is Jesus Whom they crucified, and Who is being carried up into heaven, and He it is Who shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”  And after the end of ten days He sent upon you the Holy Spirit, Who gave you power to do mighty works, according to your ability.  Put not behind you the commandments of the Son of God; fear ye not the destruction of the kings and governors of the earth in such wise that ye shall put behind you the instructions of our Lord and Master.  Now therefore, be not grieved in your hearts at what I shall say unto you.

‘The time of my visitation hath drawn nigh, and I must lay down my body so that my soul and my spirit may depart to the Lord, in order that He may give unto me the things which He hath promised to me.  For my Lord came unto me on the evening of the Sabbath (?), as I was standing in prayer, and He said unto me, “Dost thou know Me?”  And I said unto Him, “Thou art my Lord and my beloved Son; what is it that Thou commandest me to do?”  And He said  unto me, “Inform Peter and John concerning these things, for it is they who shall lay their hands upon thine eyes.  Now three more days have yet to pass before I shall come for thee and take thy soul and thy body into My city of the Jerusalem of heaven.  And all My saints shall marvel at the glory which I shall give unto thee in that place, for it is thou who shalt make God and His angels to be reconciled with man.  And thou shalt be more exalted than all the saints, and I will make My angels to hymn thee at all times, for thou resemblest them in thy purity and thy virginity.  All the angels and all the hosts of heaven shall rejoice when thou comest to meet them.  The  Patriarchs  and  the  prophets shall come forth to meet thee, and they shall exult because the mother of the Lord hath come to them, for they were not able to see her in the flesh.   Behold, when they see her they shall praise her through God the Father.  All the virgins who are in the heavens shall rejoice with thee when thou shalt meet them, and those who have preserved their virginity shall come forth to thee, and shall bow in homage before thee, saying, Well hast thou come (i.e. Welcome)!   O mother of all virgins!  It was time for thee to come unto us, O thou mother!  Grieve thou not, O mother, about thy holy body, neither about what shall happen unto it, nor about where they shall lay it.  What man is there who hath been begotten by the flesh who shall not taste death, and whose body shall not return to  the  earth  wherefrom I took him?  I  tasted death, but I rose from the dead on the third day, I destroyed him that held the power of death.  I will hide thy body in the earth and I will make My angels to keep it in the earth always, and no man whatsoever shall find thy body in the earth in the place wherein I shall place it, until the day wherein I shall raise it up incorruptible.  And a sweet odours shall arise from out of thy body until the day wherein it shall rise up.  They shall build a great and glorious church over thy body, and it shall be more splendid than a palace of kings.  Haste thee [to do] the commandment; of the Apostlesand give an ordinance to the virgins.  I will come with My angels, and I will hide thy body and thy soul; so then thou shalt not be afraid of Death when he shall come to thee.”  Now therefore call unto us all the virgins, and I will give them an ordinance.

And the Apostles did according to what she told them; and when the virgins had come unto her they saluted her and she said unto them, ‘I declare unto you that I am about to depart to the Jerusalem of heaven’; and they paid no attention to the words.  And Mary took hold of the hand of one of them who had waxed exceedingly old, that is to say, Mary Magdalene, out of whom the Christ had cast several devils, and she said unto the virgins, ‘Behold your mother from this time onwards.  Give rest to her spirit, even as she hath given rest to me in my days. Observe the customs which ye arranged to keep with the Christ when ye were with Him.’  These things did she say unto the virgins, but she did not inform them about her death.  And she turned to the Apostles, and she said unto Simon Peter, ‘Simon Peter, whom the Lord loved, and preserved for the kingdom that is in the heavens, be merciful, even as your Father Who Is in the heavens is merciful.  James and John, watch over your holy Catholicus, and be kind and gracious to every man.  And thou, O Peter, go thou into the house of thy disciple Bibros, and take the pieces of fine linen which thou didst commit to his care, and bring them hither to me.’  And Peter did according as she told him, and he brought the pieces of fine linen which had been committed to the care of Bifros (sic).   And she said unto James, ‘Rise up, take a stater, and go to the sellers of sweet perfumes, and bring its value in spices to me hither’; and he did according as she told him.

   And when the day wherein she was to be taken arrived, the Virgin Mary said unto John, ‘Rise up, light a great number of lamps, both large and small, for the evening hath come.’  And  she took the pieces of fine linen, and spread them out upon the ground, and she poured out upon them her sweet spices, and she stood up on them, and said unto the Apostles, ‘Lee us pray to I the Lord, so that He may have mercy upon us.’  And she spread out her hands towards the east, and she made supplication to the Lord, saying, ‘I give thanks unto Thee, O Lord God Almighty, and to Thine Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father, because He came to us, and built for Himself a fleshly tabernacle in my womb, according as He wished.  I brought Him forth without pollution, without blemish.  I nursed Him (or,  reared Him) with anxious care, and it was He  Who nourished me.  I give thanks unto Him because Thy Holy Spirit came into me.  And now, my Lord, the time hath come when Thou shalt draw nigh unto me, and shalt be gracious unto me.   Scatter all the stones of stumbling that are before me and [all] obstacles, and let all those that are in my path, both on the left hand and on the right hand, flee before me.  Stand Thou near me with gladness.   Let the powers of darkness be ashamed, for nothing of theirs hath been found in me;  Open unto me the gates of righteousness, and let me go in through them, and I will make manifest Thy holy name, O my God.  Let the Dragon flee before me, for have freedom of speech before Thee.  May the river of fire be tranquil when I come unto Thee, and may it allow me cross over it, for I unto Thee belongs the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.’

And  when she had said these things she lay down upon the pieces of fine linen and the sweet spices, and her face was towards the east.  And behold, the Lord Jesus Christ came unto her upon the Cherubim, with the angels before Him, and He came and stood at His mother’s head, and He said unto her, ‘Be not afraid of Death, for the Life of the whole world is with thee, but it is necessary that at least thou shouldst Glance at him with thine eyes, and he will not come except he be commanded to do so.’  And Jesus said unto Death, ‘Come, O thou who art in the chambers of the south.’  And when Mary saw him she cast her soul into the bosom of her Son, and He wrapped it up in a napkin(?) of delight.  And the Apostles laid their hands upon her eyes, and she fell asleep with a good falling asleep on the night of the twentieth day of Tobe, in the peace of God!  Amen.

And the Lord said unto the Apostles, ‘Take up her bed carefully, and take it to the Valley of Jehosaphat, which is opposite the Mount of Olives, the place where I broke bread in days of old.  Set down there the bier whereon is the body, and withdraw yourselves because of the threatening of the Jews, for they will pursue you wishing to slay you.  And I will hide the body according as it pleaseth Me.’   Thereupon the Apostles took up the body and placed it upon a bier.

And when the morning had come a great multitude was gathered together in the city, and the virgins cried out.  And straightway Peter and John lifted up the body to carry out to the place of which the Saviour had told them, and a great multitude of people sang psalms and hymns before it, saying, ‘The Lord …….,’ and a multitude of angels sang hymns before her.  And when they arrived at the Temple of the Jews all the members of the Sanhedrin were gathered together in the Temple on that day, and they heard the singing of the hymns over her holy body.  And they said, ‘Who is this who hath died in the city this day?’  And [the people] said unto them, ‘It is the mother of the Nazarene, that is, Jesus, who hath died, and they are taking her out to bury her.’  And they passed a decree unanimously, saying, ‘We must not let her be buried in the city; lest mighty deeds be worked [at her tomb] similar to those which her Son performed, and lest the people believe in her, and they change our Law.’  And the high priests and the scribes said, let us go and burn her body with fire, so that no man will ever be able to find it.’  And the Jews lighted a fire, and they pursued [the Apostles] with the bier whereon was the body of the Virgin.  And when the Apostles had arrived at the Valley of Jehosaphat they looked behind them, I and they saw the Jews pursuing them, and they dropped the bier upon the ground, for they were afraid that the godless Jews would kill them.  And whilst the Jews were rushing on to overtake them the Apostles betook themselves to flight and escaped.  Now the body of the holy Virgin they could not find, and all that they found was the wooden bier, and they lighted a fire and threw the bier into it.  And they went into every place, saying, ‘Perhaps her body hath been carried away secretly,’ but they could not find it.  And a very strong sweet smell emanated from the place whereon the body of the Virgin had been laid, and a mighty voice came from heaven, saying unto them, ‘Let no man give himself the trouble of seeking  after the body of the Virgin until the great day of the appearing the Saviour.’  And the Jews fled greatly ashamed; and they came to the city and told their neighbours what had happened, and they commended them, saying, ‘Tell no man whomsoever what hath happened.’

Now, therefore, O my beloved, these are the things which we were able to discover for our discourse on the life of the holy Virgin Mary.  The whole time of her life was sixty years.  She gave birth to our Lord when she was fifteen years; she followed the Saviour when He was preaching for three and a half years after she gave Him birth, and after the Saviour rose from the dead she lived eleven years and a half more.  She ended her life on the twentieth day of the month Tobe.  Our Lord Jesus, the Christ, reigneth over us.  And after the righteous Emperors, Constantine and his son, rose up we built a holy church in the name of the holy Virgin Mary, the mother of the Lord, on the day of her holy commemoration.  And let us send up to her thanksgiving, saying, ‘Remember us, O true Queen, and do thou plead on our behalf before God, so that He may shew mercy unto us and so that me may celebrate a festival to Him at all times.’  Let us give alms to the poor in the name of the Virgin, [so that] she may not forsake us in the place to which we are going. 

Let us ascribe glory unto her by the utterances of our lips, and let us say,

‘Through thee honours have been bestowed upon the city by our God.’ 

And again,

‘The death of the saints is precious in the sight of the Lord.’ (Ps 116.15) 

And again,

‘The sound of rejoicing and salvation is in the habitation of the righteous.’ (Ps 118.15) 

And now the time hath arrived for us to offer up the Holy Offering, the Body and Blood of Jesus the Christ, our Lord, and moderation in everything is good.  By the Will of God we will give the remainder of the exegesis in the holy shrine.  Let us then bring to an end our discourse at this place, and let us ascribe glory to the Holy Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, lifegiving and consubstantial, now and always, and for ever and ever.  Amen. 

Source

Homily on the Dormition

by Theodosius of Alexandria

THE FALLING ASLEEP OF MARY

Discourse of Theodosius. 

A discourse which our thrice blessed father Abba Theodosius, the archbishop of Alexandria and the confessor who bore Christ, delivered. Now he delivered it concerning the assumption of the Lady of us all, the holy God-bearer Mary, on the sixteenth of the month Mesoure; beginning from the incarnation of Christ unto the death of this holy Virgin and her holy assumption. And be delivered this discourse in the last year wherein he was about to die; in the peace of God, Amen.  
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He accomplished every work of mankind, sin only excepted. He went on to the cross: He suffered pain in the flesh for our sakes: He tasted death on our behalf. But He is painless and deathless as God for ever. He rose from the dead. He went in unto His disciples, the doors being shut, and gave them His peace. And at the end of forty days came His holy assumption. He took His disciples up into the mount of Olives. He lifted up His eyes to heaven, and blessed them, and gave them oneness of heart and His holy laws. Then said He to Peter, Peter, My bishop, dost thou not remember that I once called thee Simon Bar-Jona? which is, I made thee son of the Dove, which is My blessed mother. Now continue with her, until she die and bless you. Then again He said to John, John, My beloved, remember that I love thee. Therefore have I sanctified thee, and I have taken from thee the poison of the serpent. Now continue with My mother, as thou dost continue with Me, until she die, and thou obtain her blessing. Remember that I gave her to thee, as I was hanging on the cross, that thou shouldest be to her a son in My stead. Now when He had said these things, He ascended to the heavens in glory; and a cloud received Him from their eyes. And they returned unto Jerusalem, giving thanks for all those things that He spake to them.

Now Mary the holy Virgin was dwelling in a separate place in Jerusalem, having many virgins in subjection to her, teaching them the purity and the fear of the Lord. We also, the apostles Peter and John, were continuing with her, fulfilling her command and her evangelic laws, whilst she was pilot to us all, like a wise captain. And it came to pass on a day, even the twentieth of Tobi, that we went in unto her again according to custom, being blessed by her. We saw her amazed; and we said to her, What aileth thee to-day, O thou mother of Life, seeing that thy face is thus sad?  She answered and said to us, It happened tome this night that when I had ceased making my little office, I slumbered for a little while; and I saw a beautiful youth about thirty years of age, ten thousand times brighter than the sun. I saw you also standing at his right hand, with garments in your hands, stretching them out to me. The young man answered and said to me, O thou woman, doest thou know Me who I am?  When I perceived that it was my Son, I said to Him, My Lord, art Thou Jesus my Son and the Son of God in truth?  He said to me, I am. I answered and said to Him, My Lord, what is the appointment of these garments, which are in the hands of Thy disciples, stretching them out to me?  He said to me, This is the appointment of thy shroud, when thou goest from the body. When He had said these things to me, He hid Himself from me.

Therefore I fear, O my sons, because of those paths, for they are very narrow. I heard Him many times teaching the sons of men, telling them to repent, saying, There is a river of fire set in the path, tossing its waves exceedingly, and its waves are higher than any mountain. All flesh must needs cross over it, whether righteous or sinners. Can I, my sons, be delivered from this?  What then shall I say concerning the separation of the soul from the body?  O that hour full of fear and trembling!  They say that two powers come after the soul, one of light, another of darkness, unseemly and full of shuddering and trembling. If it be a righteous soul, they bring it forth enticingly, being mild .and gentle towards it, because they see its Maker peaceful towards it. If indeed it be a sinner, the powers of light withdraw themselves, and the powers of darkness draw nigh to it in anger, slaying them and hastily cleaving asunder and scourging them, grinding their teeth and sending forth flames of fire from their mouths into its face, knowing that its deeds are unseemly, and that God is not at peace with it. Woe to me, my sons!  Who can assure me, that God is at peace with me, that I may be able to be delivered from this hour? They tell me also that there is a gloomy darkness in the path; and there are therein merciIess avengers, their faces being very diverse, whom God hath set to teach the lawless in the way; even as it is written, Shall I be saved from such as these?  There is also in that place the worm that does not die, which eats the lawless more than any cancer. O my beloved sons, would that I might be delivered from this also!  They inform me also, O my sons, that there is an unquenchable fire, whose flame cannot be cooled by the waters of the sea, or by the rivers, or by the fountains, or by the rains. But they say that three tear drops extinguish its flame. Blessed is the soul that has wept over its sins, whilst it is yet in the world, or ever it reaches this fire. Woe to me!  I have not yet told of the ruler of darkness, who always does what in him lies to drag down every one under his feet, save those who shall fly above him on wings of light, which are their good deeds. Who can comfort me over the sentence, which cameth forth from the mouth of the righteous Judge, Take this soul, and give to it according to all its works. All these things, my sons, are fearful to me on every side. But the will of the Lord be done upon me.

And as we heard these things, we lifted up our voice and wept in sorrow, saying, Lord, we have not yet forgotten the former sorrow, even Thy life-giving sorrows. And shall the second also happen unto us?  Woe to us, if this bereavement happen unto us! 

Now whilst these things were so, behold there was a knocking at the door of the place wherein we were dwelling. And when we had opened, behold there came in many virgins from the mount of Olives, having choice censers and lamps. And when they were come in, they worshipped the holy Virgin Mary. She asked them, saying, What then is this great trouble which ye cause me to-day, O my beloved daughters?  They answered, saying, It happened to us, our Lady, in the middle of this night, that when we had ceased making our little office, we heard a voice, saying, I say unto you, the virgins of the mount of Olives arise, go to Jerusalem unto Mary, the mother of the Life, for she is going forth from the body to-morrow. Therefore we could not be disobedient to the divine command; and behold we assembled hither.

And Mary, the holy Virgin, when she heard these things, gave thanks to God. Again she said to us, Withdraw yourselves for a little while, my sons, that I may give thanks to the Lord, whom my soul loveth. And she opened her mouth, and spake this prayer, saying, I thank Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, the first Word that came forth from the mouth of the Father, and came and dwelt in my womb the space of nine months. I praise Thee, the treasure-house of all good things, to whom I gave suck, even Thee who givest food to all flesh. I praise Thee, the Inheritor and unseen, who bearest the universe by the word of Thy power, and whom I bare in my hands. I praise Thee, the Life of the patriarchs, that dwelt with Abraham, strengthened Issac, and enlarged Israel. I praise Thee, the prophecy of the prophets. Thou didst come and fulfil them. I praise Thee, the calling of the judges, and their salvation in the battle. I praise thee, the crown of the righteous kings, who bringest forth their judgment aright. I praise Thee, the song of the angels, and the hymn of the archangels. I praise Thee, the trumpet of the Cherubim, and the speech of the Seraphim. I praise Thee, the patience of the martyrs, and the glory of their crown. I praise Thee, the espousals of the virgins, and the light of their lamps. I praise Thee, the proclamation of the apostles, and the preaching of their sweet savour. I praise Thee, at once my Lord and my Son. I beg and beseech Thy goodness, be to me a helper and forsake me not. Bring my soul out of this prison, that I may give thanks unto Thy name. Let the fire be still: let Thy mercy prevent me: let the darkness depart: let Thy light appear. Let the enemy who wisheth to reckon with me shut his mouth. Let those who wish the peace of Thy mother appear. Let the worm that doth not die fail quickly: let Thy living mercy comfort my soul. Yea, Lord, at once my God and my Son, look down upon me in this hour, fearful and full of trembling. Come unto me, Thou whom my soul loveth. Let Thy Holy Ghost guide me aright. Let me worship before Thee with boldness, that I may give thanks to Thee, O Lord my God, with a psaltery of Thy truth. For the glory is due to Thee and Thy good Father and the Holy Ghost unto the ages of the ages. Amen.

Now when she had finished this prayer, we also said the Amen. Behold there were thunderings and lightnings, and all the place was moved to its foundations. And there appeared in our midst the Lord Jesus, riding on a chariot of light, Moses being before Him and all the rest of the prophets, David the king and the righteous kings. And all the place became bright as fire,  When we could not bear the fear, we fell down in the midst, and became as a dead man. But He, our Lord Jesus, called with His gentle voice, Hail, My virgin mother: hail, My holy apostles: hail, ye virgins assembled hither. And forthwith the fear left us, and we fell down and worshipped Him. And He said to His mother, I have heard thy supplication; and thy prayer has come in before Me unto My throne of My glory, at the right hand of My Father and of the Holy Ghost. Now, O My virgin mother, arise, let; us go hence. Wherefore wouldest thou dwell in the house of the sinners, when the tents of righteousness are prepared before thee?  What reason hast thou, O My mother, for dwelling in those things which are to be dissolved after but a little while, when the eternal are awaiting thee?  O My beautiful mother, arise, let us go hence. Wherefore shall I leave thee in the earthly Jerusalem, which killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her; whilst the heavenly Jerusalem longeth for us, the city of My Father and of the Holy Ghost?  For thou art too good for it. Now, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence. My Father who liveth and the Holy Ghost who proceedeth from the Life, wait for thy coming unto Them; for thou didst carry Their unity, even My godhead by nature, which dwelt in thee. Now, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence, from the house of weeping into the city of gladness, from the land of the dead into the land of the living. Forthwith, O My beloved mother, arise, let us go hence.

Now as He was saying these things, we could not bear the grief which was about to come upon us; and we cried out, and wept bitterly, saying, O our Lord, if Thou wilt take her away from our midst, and we become desolate; receive us to Thyself before her, that we may not see our own destruction. And the virgins also were weeping and groaning. But she turned her face to us, and said to us, My sons, wherefore do you weep and grieve my spirit?  Is it not written that all flesh must needs taste death?  I also must needs return to the earth, as all the inhabitants of earth. But be of good cheer, He is with you always, and He will not leave you desolate; even as He said. Again she said to the virgins, My good daughters, keep the covenants that ye have made with your true Bridegroom Christ. And pour oil into your lamps: and when He ariseth to go forth, ye shall be found watching, and shall go in unto the marriage feast with Him. Then she said to our Saviour, O my beloved Son, I beseech Thee, be to all of them a comforter after my translation; for their heart is broken over the evils which their eyes saw, which the Jews did to Thee. Our eyes saw Thee, when Thy body was bathed with blood, at once by the piercing of the nails and the spear wound. We saw Thee also given gall to drink instead of water, and a crown of thorns put upon Thy head, and wounded by a spear for the salvation of us all. Unless Thou hadst risen and given them joy, surely they all had died. But I am with them for consolation until this day through Thy goodness.

Our Lord and our God answered and said to His mother, O my beautiful mother, when Adam transgressed My commandment, I passed upon him a sentence, saying, Adam, thou art earth and thou shalt return unto the earth again. For also I, the Life of all men, tasted death in the flesh which I took from thee, in the flesh of Adam, thy forefather. Yet since My godhead was one with it, therefore I raised it from the dead. I did not wish to suffer thee to taste death, but to translate thee up to the heavens as Enoch and Elias. But these also, even they must needs taste death at last. And if this happens to thee, wicked men will think concerning thee, that thou art a power which came down from heaven; and that this dispensation took place in appearance. I know the heart of all men, and understand their thoughts.

When our Saviour had said these things, He turned His face to us, even to me Peter and to John; and said to us, Be of good cheer, My friends and apostles. I will not suffer her to be long away from you, but she shall appear to you quickly. There are two hundred and six days from her death unto her holy assumption. I will bring her unto you arrayed in this body again, even as this body also, as ye see her now, whilst she is with you, And I will translate her up to the heavens to be with My Father and the Holy Ghost, that she may continue praying for you all. Now when He had said these things, again He said to us, Arise, go into the holy place; and ye shall find on the altar heavenly garments and perfumes of the heavens, which My good Father and the Holy Ghost. have sent Me for the honour of the body of My beloved mother. And when we had gone in, we brought them out to Him; and He said to us, Spread them on this bed. And when we had spread them, He said to His mother, Haste thee, O thou queen of all women, enter these; and rest thee from the grief and the trouble and the groaning. Enter thou into the joy and eternal gladness.

And she arose, and spread forth her hands, and said this prayer, Adonai, Eloi, Sabaoth, Messias, Rabba, Emmanuel receive me, my Son, in this very hour. Let the royal doors of Thy holy courts be opened before me, that I may enter in by them, and worship before Thee, my Master. For it is to Thee that the glory is due, and to Thy good Father and the Holy Ghost, giver of life and of one essence with Thee, for ever. Amen.

VI,  Now when she had said these things, she lay down on the garments, and she turned her face to our Saviour, and straightway she commended her spirit into His hands. He said to me, even to me Peter and to John, Make haste, shroud the body of My mother before I go away from you. And we arose, and prepared her well for burial, even as He commended. And He, the Lord stretched out His hand eastwards, and brought us three flourishing branches of palm, and perfumes from the Paradise of delight. Again He turned His face, and brought three branches of olive from an olive tree, from which the dove brought to Noah, that he might know that the Lord had mercy on the world. When we had placed them on her holy body, He said to me, Peter, My bishop, bear her head on thy shoulder; for thou art the head of the Church after Me. John also, let him hear her feet on his shoulder; for I have sanctified him from the time that he was in the womb. Let the men go before, and the women go behind, as is fitting. Go in order and in calmness without weeping and crying out; for behold the powers of the heavens sing hymns before you. For also ye know the anger of the chief priests and the malice of all the murderous nation of the Jews against Me and My mother. But their counsel shall not stand. I will make them blind, that they may know the glory of My godhead, and glorify Me and My good Father and the Holy Ghost. Take up therefore the body of My holy mother. Place it moreover in the stone coffin. Shut it, and abide by it in prayers until the time appointed for her assumption. In two hundred and six days I will come with her blessed soul, and I will take her to the heavens in glory to be with My good Father and the Holy Ghost.

Now when He had said these things, Ha gave us his peace and went up to the heavens in glory, and gave her as a gift to His Father and the Holy Ghost, saying. O My good Father, receive from Me the soul of My blessed mother, who received Thine only begotten Son in the world. Receive from Me Thy holy temple, which was a dwelling place of Thy Holy Ghost, even the unity of the Godhead. Receive from Me, O My good Father, the bush which received the fire of the godhead and was not burnt. I offer the, O My Father, a royal gift to-day, even the soul of My virgin mother. I bring in unto Thee to-day, O My good Father, her who is better than the ark of old; for Thou didst save the whole world by My being in her, Thy coessential Son. Po-day is a day of joy to Me, O My Father, the Almighty; for My mother cometh to Thee, arrayed and adorned with good deeds. The angels rejoice with Me to-day, O My good Father, as they see Me rejoicing with My virgin mother, who cometh to them arrayed in heavenly garments. The archangels sing Our praise to-day, O My good Father, singing the befitting song, Glory to God in the highest, and peace at the coming unto us of the mother of our Lord. The Cherubim and the Serephim give their doxology of praise for this joy to-day, saying, Holy, holy, holy art Thou, Lord, Sabaoth: holy is Thy temple, Thy cherubic throne. Who shall see Me to-day rejoicing, O My good Father, and not rejoice with Me? For this is at once My temple and My throne,

Now when the good Son had said these things unto the good Father, straightway the soul of the Virgin also heard the gentled voice of the Holy Trinity, saying, Come unto Us, thou that art blessed of Us, inherit with Us the joy eternal, unspeakable. Then it also, even the soul of the Virgin, worshipped the Holy Trinity, saying, Better is a day in Thy courts than thousands. I  had rather dwell in Thy courts, my Master. And again, Thy Holy Ghost hath brought me to this holy mountain. Therefore I will go in unto Thy holy place, and will worship at Thy temple, O Thou whom my soul loveth. When she had said these things, she was in joy unspeakable, in the place whence grief has fled away, being in the glory of the Trinity.

And we also, the apostles, bare her holy body; and we went forth with it, with those who were assembled unto us, in order and calmness, taking it to the field or Jehoshaphat. We came to an assembly of the Jews, assembled one with another. When they saw us going quietly and silently, they spake one with another, saying, What is this corpse, or who are these that bear it?  For they go in such calmness. This is a new custom, which is not in Israel. And one of them, being a Galilean and knowing the apostles well, answered: the Holy Ghost came down upon him, and he said to them, This corpse that is borne, this is the body of Mary, the daughter of Joakim and Anna, who bare Messias, which is Christ. He it was who healed your sick, and gave light to your eyes, and raised your dead. We believe that as He raised your dead, He will raise His mother also, and will take her to the heavens with Him. And the Jews when they heard, said in confusion, What shall we do?  Behold the error is among us still, as we see it in this fellow who speaks with us now. But let us make haste, and kindle a fire, and burn her body. Else, if we let this be buried in our borders, there will appear from it signs and wonders, and many will be assembled to it and believe on Him: and they will be numbered unto the Romans, and they will have dominion over our cities, and will humble our nation. Now when they had hastily said these things, they kindled a fire and torches, and went out behind them, to burn the holy body of the blessed Virgin. But the apostles, when they saw that which was come to pass, a fear of man took hold of them; and they put down the bier, and fled.

And the lawless Jews, when they approached the bier, a mist and a darkness came upon them; they became blind, and there was no one to lead them by the hand. The fire also which they prepared, to burn the body of the holy Virgin in it, smote many of them: even as the Holy Ghost said by the mouth of David the prophet in the eighty-first Psalm, They knew not, neither did they understand; they go in darkness. There come upon them coals of fire on the earth. Then they cried out, saying, woe to us, O our Master Christ; for we have sinned against heaven, and before Thee. Forgive us, for we are children of Abraham. If Thou givest us the light of our eyes, we will know the glory of Thy godhead, and we will believe on Thee and on Thy virgin mother; for she is our sister. Now when they said these things, Christ was moved with compassion for them, and set them free from their blindness and their error. Many of them were numbered unto us, and glorified the Holy Trinity. And we returned to Jerusalem, glorifying God for His good favours. And we went many times to the place wherein we left the bier, accomplishing songs and praises befitting God, until the day of her glorious assumption.

And it came to pass when the two hundred and six days were fulfilled, we all arose and went to the holy remains, on the evening of the fifteenth of Mesoure, which is on the morning of the sixteenth. We spent the whole night watching and continuing steadfastly in prayer. Now at the tenth hour of the night we heard thunderings and voices of shouting–a choir of angels coming down upon the tomb. Then also David the singer was striking his harp, saying, Arise, O Lord, unto Thy rest; Thou and the ark of Thy holy place. Straightway the whole place burned with fire. And the Lord appeared on the chariots of Cherubim, the soul of the Virgin seated in His bosom, wrapped in His divine robe. And we fell down through fear, and became as dead men. He raised us, and took away from us fear. And He said to us, Hail, My brethren and members and the virgins who are with you: arise and see the glory of mother.

Again He called over the coffin, saying, Arise from thy sleep, O thou holy body, which was to Me a temple: wear thy soul, which was to Me a true tent. Arise, O thou body, that dies according to its nature: wear thy deathless soul that thou mayest be altogether deathless, and that I may take thee to the land of the living. Arise, O thou body, which dissolves and becomes corrupt according to nature: wear thine incorruptible soul. Be altogether incorruptible .and indissoluble unto the ages of the ages. Arise. Why, sleepest thou yet in the earth? Array thyself with thy seal, and come to the heavens with Me, unto My good Father and the Holy Ghost; for They long for thee. Arise, O thou holy body, from which I built Me My flesh in a manner incomprehensible: wear thy soul which was to Me a dwelling place. Arise, O thou that art free: wear the freedom of all the world, through which I have redeemed all that I have made. Arise, O thou holy body: be joined to the blessed soul. Receive from Me Thy resurrection before the whole creation. The inhabitants of heaven will be amazed, when they see thee arrayed with thy soul, even with immortality. They will say one to another, Who is this that hath received his resurrection before the whole creation, arrayed and adorned thus?  Peradventure this is the house of the Lord, this is the gate of heaven. O Let us sing praise to our God herein, for the Lord loveth it more than all the dwelling of Jacob; which is the choir of the saints. My Father Who liveth and the Holy Ghost will embrace thee and salute thee; for thou wast a dwelling place of Their unity by nature. The four living creatures with the six wings, full of eyes on all sides, which are chariots and thrones of the Trinity, will be amazed in that hour, as they see thee arrayed and adorned in the glory of My godhead. They will say, Whence is this body from the earth, wearing this soul before the time of the judgment; resting beneath this tent, this that is fearful and full of shuddering?  We know not. As for ourselves we know that we are made by the Lord spirit and flame of fire. Behold we cover our faces with our wings for the glory of His godhead: we cannot look at all at the glory of His godhead. Behold this is a body from the earth, and it abides by Him that none can abide by, and approaches Him that none can approach unto. It is bright: and is adorned and is arrayed in the glory of the Trinity. Now arise and be joined to thy former unity, for I wait for thee, O thou that wast made a temple of Mine.

When the Lord had said these things over the coffin of stone, straightway it opened.: for it was shut even as the ark of Noah aforetime, which no one could open save God, who shut it aforetime. Forthwith the body of the honourable Virgin arose, and embraced its own soul, even as two brothers who are come from a strange country, and they were united one with another. Forthwith the singer David came into the midst in that hour, and struck his harp, saying, Mercy and truth are come forth to meet one another; righteousness and peace have saluted one another. Now when these things had come to pass, He went up to the heavens, blessing us and those who shall walk after His law, saying, Peace be unto you, My friends and members. Peace be unto the sepulchre, which was a dwelling place of the body of My mother. And I will set My blessing and My grace and My power there for ever; if they abide in the right faith, and glorify Me in an indivisible unity. Peace be unto those who shall accomplish always the memorial of My mother in mercy and judgment. She also, at once our Lady and our succourer, blessed us: and we saw them no more. But the voice of the powers that sang hymns before them was sounding in our ears, saying, Alleluia. Bring to the Lord glory and honour; bring to the Lord honour to His holy name. Alleluia. Bring to the Lord the sons of God, and sing glory in His holy temple. Alleluia.   Then we understood that to-day there were brought unto the King virgins, even the soul and the body which were united. He said, Behind her there shall be brought in unto Him all her neighbours also, which are her holy deeds. And so we returned to Jerusalem, glorifying and thanking the Lord.

Behold these things we have said thus far, manifesting to you the gifts full of grace of this Holy Virgin, who is our glorying unto all the race of men. Now it befits us also, even all that have known her grace, to bring in unto her on this day fruits worthy of repentance, each according to his power. 

Source

The Passing of Blessed Mary

by Melito of Sardis (d. 180 a.d.)

This text preserves an early version of the Virgin’s Dormition, and perhaps the earliest known in Latin.  It is dated by most scholars to sometime in the fifth century.  The narrative’s manuscript tradition often includes a brief prologue, in which Melito explains that he has composed this narrative in response to an earlier narrative written by a certain Leucius.  According to Melito, this narrative was riddled with heresies, and he has composed his own narrative in order to present the truth about the end of Mary’s life in an account that is free from the “lies” and “heresies” of Leucius’ version.  It is worth noting that many of the earliest exemplars of this literary tradition are quite heterodox, and Melito’s narrative is one of the earliest “orthodox” responses to this earlier tradition.  

Text from ANF, vol. 8. Preface is quoted from Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924), 210.

HERE BEGINNETH THE PASSING OF THE BLESSED MARY. 

[Preface.  I remember that I have oft-times written concerning a certain Leucius, who, after that with us he had been a companion of the apostles, with alienated sense and rash mind departed from the way of righteousness and put into his books many things concerning the acts of the apostles and spake many and diverse things of their mighty deeds, but concerning their teaching lied much, affirming that they taught otherwise, and establishing his own wicked position as if by their words.  Nor did he account this sufficient, but also corrupted with so evil a pen the departure of the blessed Mary ever virgin, the mother of God, that it is unlawful not only to read but even to hear it in the church of God.  We therefore at your petition have written simply those things which we heard from the apostle John, and have sent them unto your brotherhood, believing no alien doctrines which sprout from heretics]

1. THEREFORE, when the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ was hanging on the tree fastened by the nails of the cross for the life of the whole world, He saw about the cross His mother standing, and John the evangelist, whom He peculiarly loved above the rest of the apostles, because he alone of them was a virgin in the body. He gave him, therefore, the charge of holy Mary, saying to him: Behold thy mother! and saying, to her: Behold thy son! From that hour the! holy mother of God remained specially in the care of John, as long as she had her habitation in this life. And when the apostles had divided the world by lot for preaching, she settled in the house of his parents near Mount Olivet.

2. In the second year, therefore, after Christ had vanquished death, and ascended up into heaven, on a certain day, Mary, burning with a longing for Christ, began to weep alone, within the shelter of her abode. And, behold, an angel, shining in a dress of great light, stood before her and gave utterance to the words of salutation saying: Hail! thou blessed by the Lord, receive the salutation of Him who commanded safety to Jacob by His prophets. Behold, said He a palm branch–I have brought it to thee from the paradise of the Lord–which thou wilt cause to be carried before thy bier, when on the third day thou shalt be taken up from the body. For, lo, thy Son awaits thee with thrones and angels, and all the powers of heaven. Then Mary said to the angel: I beg that all the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ he assembled to me. To whom the angel said: Behold, to-day, by the power of my Lord Jesus Christ, all the apostles will come to thee. And Mary says to him: I ask that thou send upon me thy blessing, that no power of the lower world may withstand me in that hour in which my soul shall go out of my body, and that I may not see the prince of darkness. And the angel said: No power indeed of the lower world will hurt thee; and thy Lord God, whose servant and messenger I am, hath given thee eternal blessing; but do not think that the privilege of not seeing the prince of darkness is to be given thee by me, but by Him whom thou hast carried in thy womb; for to Him belongeth power over all for ever and ever. Thus saying, the angel departed with great splendour. And that palm shone with exceeding great light. Then Mary, undressing herself, put on better garments. And, taking the palm which she had received from the hands of the angel, she went out to the mount of Olivet, and began to pray, and say: I had not been worthy, O Lord, to bear Thee, unless Thou hadst had compassion on me; but nevertheless I have kept the treasure which Thou entrustedst to me. Therefore I ask of Thee, O King of glory, that the power of Gehenna hurt me not. For if the heavens and the angels daily tremble before Thee, how much more man who is made from the ground, who possesses no good thing, except as much as he has received from Thy benignant bounty! Thou art, O Lord, God always blessed for ever. And thus saying, she went back to her dwelling.

3. And, behold, suddenly, while St. John was preaching in Ephesus, on the Lord’s day, at the third hour of the day, there was a great earthquake, and a cloud raised him and took him up from the eyes of all, and brought him before the door of the house where Mary was. And knocking at the door, he immediately went in. And when Mary saw him, she exulted in joy, and said: I beg of thee, my son John, be mindful of the words of my Lord Jesus Christ, in which He entrusted me to thee. For, behold, on the third day, when I am to depart from the body, I have heard the plans of the Jews, saying, Let us wait for the day when she who bore that seducer shall die, and let us burn her booty with fire. She therefore called St. John, anti led him into the secret chamber of the house, and showed him the robe of her burial, and that palm of light which she had received from the angel, instructing him that he should cause it to be carried before her couch when she was going to her tomb.

4. And St. John said to her: How shall I alone perform thy funeral rites, unless my brethren and fellow-apostles of my Lord Jesus Christ come to pay honour to thy body? And, behold, on a sudden, by the command of God, all the apostles were snatched up, raised on a cloud, from the places in which they were preaching the word of God, and set down before the door of the house in which Mary dwelt. And, saluting each other, they wondered, saying: What is the cause for which the Lord hath assembled us here? ‘

5. Then all the apostles, rejoicing with one mind, finished their prayer. And when they had said the Amen, behold, on a sudden, there came the blessed John, and told them all these things. The apostles then, having entered the house, found Mary, and saluted her, saying: Blessed art thou by the Lord, who hath made heaven and earth. And she said to them: Peace be with you, most beloved brethren! How have you come hither? And they recounted to her how they had come, each one raised on a cloud by the Spirit of God, and set down in the same place. And she said to them: God hath not deprived me of the sight of you. Behold, I shall go the way of all the earth, and I doubt not that the Lord hath now conducted you hither to bring me consolation for the anguish which is just coming upon me. Now therefore I implore you, that without intermission you all with one mind watch, even till that hour in which the Lord will come, and I shall depart from the body.

6. And when they had sat down in a circle consoling her, when they had spent three days in the praises of God, behold, on the third day, about the third hour of the day, a deep sleep seized upon all who were in that house, and no one was at all able to keep awake but the apostles alone, and only the three virgins who were there. And, behold, suddenly the Lord Jesus Christ came with a great multitude of angels; and a great brightness came down upon that place, and the angels were singing a hymn, and praising God together. Then the Saviour spoke, saying: Come, most precious pearl, within the receptacle of life eternal.

7. Then Mary prostrated herself on the pavement, adoring God, and said: Blessed be the name of Thy glory, O Lord my God, who hast deigned to choose me Thine handmaid, and to entrust to me Thy hidden mystery. Be mindful of me, therefore, O King of glory, for Thou knowest that I have loved Thee with all my heart, and kept the treasure committed to me. Therefore receive me, Thy servant, and free me from the power of darkness, that no onset of Satan may oppose me, and that I may not see filthy spirits standing in my way. And the Saviour answered her: When I, sent by my Father for the salvation of the world, was hanging on the cross, the prince of darkness came to me; but when he was able to find in me no trace of his work, he went off vanquished and trodden under foot. But when thou shall see him, thou shall see him indeed by the law of the human race, in accordance with which thou hast come to the end of thy life; but he cannot hurt thee, because I am with thee to help thee. Go in security, because the heavenly host is waiting for thee to lead thee in to the joys of paradise. And when the Lord had thus spoken, Mary, rising from the pavement, reclined upon her couch, and giving thanks to God, gave up the ghost. And the apostles saw that her soul was of such whiteness, that no tongue of mortals can worthily utter it; for it surpassed all the whiteness of snow, and of every metal, and of gleaming silver, by the great brightness of its light.

8. Then the Saviour spoke, saying: Rise, Peter, and take the body of Mary, and send it to the right hand side of the city towards the east, and thou wilt find there a new tomb, in which you will lay her, and wait until I come to you. And thus saying, the Lord delivered the soul of St. Mary to Michael, who was the ruler of paradise, and the prince of the nation of the Jews; and Gabriel went with them. And immediately the Saviour was received up into heaven along with the angels.

9. And the three virgins, who were in the same place, and were watching, took up the body of the blessed Mary, that they might wash it after the manner of funeral rites. And when they had taken off her clothes, that sacred body shone with so much brightness, that it could be touched indeed for preparation for burial, but the form of it could not be seen for the excessive flashing light: except that the splendour of the Lord appeared great, and nothing was perceived, the body, when it was washed, was perfectly clean, and stained by no moisture of filth. And when they had put the dead-clothes on her, that light was gradually obscured. And the body of the blessed Mary was like lily flowers; and an odour of great sweetness came forth from it, so that no sweetness could be found like it.

10. Then, accordingly, the apostles laid the holy body on the bier, and said to each other: Who is to carry this palm before her bier? Then John said to Peter: Thou, who hast precedence of us in the apostleship, shouldst carry this palm before her couch. And Peter answered him: Thou wast the only virgin among us chosen by the Lord, and thou didst find so great favour that thou didst recline upon His breast. And He, when for our salvation He was hanging upon the stem of the cross, entrusted her to thee with His own mouth. Thou therefore oughtest to carry this palm, and let us take up that body to carry it even to the place of sepulture. After this, Peter, raising it, and saying, Take the body, began to sing and say: Israel hath gone forth out of Egypt. Alleluiah. And the other apostles along with him carried the booty of the blessed Mary, and John bore the palm of light before the bier. And the other apostles sang with a most sweet voice.

11. And, behold, a new miracle. There appeared above the bier a cloud exceeding great, like the great circle which is wont to appear beside the splendour of the moon; and there was in the clouds an army of angels sending forth a sweet song, and from the sound of the great sweetness the earth resounded. Then the people, baring gone forth from the city, about fifteen thousand, wondered, saying; What is that sound of so great sweetness? Then there stood up one who said to them: Mary has departed from the body, and the disciples of Jesus are singing praises around her. And looking, they saw the couch crowned with great glory, and the apostles singing with a loud voice. And, behold, one of them, who was chief of the priests of the Jews in his rank, filled with fury and rage, said to the rest: Behold, the tabernacle of him who disturbed us and all our race, what glory has it received? And going up, he wished to overturn the bier, and throw the body down to the ground. And immediately his hands dried up from his elbows, and stuck to the couch. And when the apostles raised the bier, part of him hung, and part of him adhered to the couch; and he was vehemently tormented with pain, while the apostles were walking and singing. And the angels who were in the clouds smote the people with blindness.

12. Then that chief cried out, saying: I implore thee, Saint Peter, do not despise me, I beseech thee, in so great an extremity, because I am exceedingly tortured by great torments. Bear in mind that when, in the praetorium, the maid that kept the door recognised thee, and told the others to revile thee, then I spoke good words in thy behalf. Then Peter answering, said: It is not for me to give other to thee; but if thou believest with thy whole heart on the Lord Jesus Christ, whom she carried in her womb, and remained a virgin after the birth, the compassion of the Lord, which with profuse benignity saves the unworthy, will give thee salvation.

To this he replied: Do we not believe? But what shall we do? The enemy of the human race has blinded our hearts, and confusion has covered our face, lest we should confess the great things of God, especially when we ourselves uttered maledictions against Christ, shouting: His blood be upon us, and upon our children. Then Peter said: Behold, this malediction will hurt him who has remained unfaithful to Him; but to those who turn themselves to God mercy is not denied. And he said: I believe all that thou sayest to me; only I implore, have mercy upon me, lest I die.

13. Then Peter made the couch stand still, and said to him: If thou believest with all thy heart upon the Lord Jesus Christ, thy hands will be released from the bier. And when he had said this his hands were immediately released from the bier, and he began to stand on his feet; but his arms were dried up, and the torture did not go away from him. Then Peter said to him: Go up to the body, and kiss the couch, and say: I believe in God, and in the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom she bore, and I believe all whatsoever Peter the apostle of God has said to me. And going up, he kissed the couch, and immediately all pain went away from him, and his hands were healed. Then he began greatly to bless God, and from the books of Moses to render testimony to the praises of Christ, so that even the apostles themselves wondered, and wept for joy, praising the name of the Lord.

14. And Peter said to him: Take this palm from the hand of our brother John, and going into the city thou wilt find much people blinded, and declare to them the great things of God; and whosoever shall believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, thou shalt put this palm upon their eyes, and they shall see; but those who will not believe shall remain blind. And when he had done so, he found much people blinded, lamenting thus: Woe unto us, because we have been made like the Sodomites struck with blindness. Nothing now is left to us but to perish. But when they heard the words of the chief who had been cured speaking, they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ; and when he put the palm over their eyes, they recovered sight. Five of them remaining in hardness of heart died. And the chief of the priests going forth, carried back the palm to the apostles, reporting all things whatsoever had been done.

15. And the apostles, carrying Mary, came to the place of the Valley of Jehoshaphat which the Lord had showed them; and they laid her in a new tomb, and closed the sepulchre. And they themselves sat down at the door of the tomb, as the Lord had commanded them; and, behold, suddenly the Lord Jesus Christ came with a great multitude of angels, with a halo of great brightness gleaming, and said to the apostles: Peace be with you! And they answered and said: Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, as we have hoped in Thee. Then the Saviour spoke to them, saying: Before I ascended to my Father I promised to you, saying that you who have followed me in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of His majesty, will sit, you also, upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Her, therefore, did I choose out of the tribes of Israel by the command of my Father, that I should dwell in her. What, therefore, do you wish that I should do to her? Then Peter and the other apostles said: Lord, Thou didst choose beforehand this Thine handmaid to become a spotless chamber for Thyself, and us Thy servants to minister unto Thee. Before the ages Thou didst foreknow all things along with the Father, with whom to Thee and the Holy Spirit there is one Godhead, equal and infinite power. If, therefore, it were possible to be done in the presence of the power of Thy grace, it had seemed to us Thy servants to be right that, just as Thou, having vanquished death, reignest in glory, so, raising up again the body of Thy mother, Thou shouldst take her with Thee in joy into heaven.

16. Then the Saviour said: Let it be according to your opinion. And He ordered the archangel Michael to bring the soul of St. Mary. And, behold, the archangel Michael rolled back the stone from the door of the tomb; and the Lord said: Arise, my beloved and my nearest relation; thou who hast not put an corruption by intercourse with man, suffer not destruction of the body in the sepulchre. And immediately Mary rose from the tomb, and blessed the Lord, and falling forward at the feet of the Lord, adored Him, saying: I cannot render sufficient thanks to Thee, O Lord, for Thy boundless benefits which Thou hast deigned to bestow upon me Thine handmaiden. May Thy name, O Redeemer of the world, God of Israel, be blessed for ever.

17. And kissing her, the Lord went back, and delivered her soul to the angels, that they should carry it into paradise. And He said to the apostles: Come up to me. And when they had come up He kissed them, and said: Peace be to you! as I have always been with you, so will I be even to the end of the world. And immediately, when the Lord had said this, He was lifted up on a cloud, and taken back into heaven, and the angels along with Him, carrying the blessed Mary into the paradise of God. And the apostles being taken up in the clouds, returned each into the place allotted for his preaching, telling the great things of God, and praising our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in perfect unity, and in one substance of Godhead, for ever and ever. Amen. 

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A Great Sign

dormition all

Sermon by Fr. Matthew Baker

Notes for a sermon delivered during Great Vespers, Dormition of the Theotokos, 2014

Today we celebrate a great and joyous solemnity: the falling asleep of the Mother of God in Jerusalem, and her bodily translation into glory.

“The Whole Mystery of the Economy”

The readings this evening – from Genesis, Ezekial, and Proverbs – present us with a series of images, all with reference to the Theotokos. She is the ladder ascending from earth to heaven, beheld by the patriarch Jacob in a vision (Gen. 28:12). She is Beth-el, God’s house, and the gate of heaven (Gen. 28:17). She is the east gate of the Temple sanctuary, which remains shut – virginal: no man enters,

“for the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it,”

as Ezekial prophesies (Ez. 44:2). She is wisdom, or the house of wisdom, of which king Solomon speaks (Prov. 9:1).

These readings– from Genesis, Ezekial, and Proverbs – represent the 3 divisions of the Jewish Bible: the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. Together they comprise a “bouquet” representing the whole of what we call the Old Covenant. It is as if to say: Mary is the sum towards which the whole history of Israel was pointing all along. She is the daughter of Zion, the hinge of salvation history.

In her is the beginning of the New Covenant.

In the words of St John of Damascus,

“in the name Theotokos is contained the whole mystery of the economy.”

Economy – oikonomia, as we often hear in our hymns – refers to God’s ordering of his “household,” his governance of creation and history according to his plan for our salvation and glorification. There is an order to God’s plan, and a unity of meaning. This unity is revealed in the person of the Holy Virgin.

Mary’s role in this economy, her identity as “Mother,” does not end with giving birth or rearing her child. We see her not only at the Annunciation and the birth of Jesus, but also at his first miracle in Cana, at the foot of the Cross, and with the Church at Pentecost. As St John of Damascus said,

“the whole mystery of the economy.”

In the festal cycle of our liturgical year, which begins September 1, the first great feast is the birth of the Theotokos, on Sept 8. The last great feast is today, her falling asleep and bodily assumption into heaven. Our liturgical remembrance of Christ’s work of salvation begins and ends with Mary. We begin with her birth, we end with her glorification.

“In the name Theotokos is contained the whole mystery of the economy.”

A Woman clothed with the Sun

At the end of his life, in exile on the island of Patmos, the Apostle John had a vision.

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head” (Rev. 12:1).

Most commentators take this image from the book of Apocalypse to be referring to the Church, or the remnant Israel. Some, however, see here an image of Mary, especially as she is the daughter of Zion, and she typifies the Church. Some even see an image of her bodily assumption.

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun” (Rev. 12:1)

. In the bodily “translation” of the Virgin, the Church recognizes a “great sign.” A prophetic sign, that speaks to us of our destiny, of the meaning of death, of bodies, of human relations.

This sign tells us: death is not the final end of the human being. We are not lastly, as the philosopher Heidegger thought, only “being-unto-death.” Finite time and death are not our ultimate horizon. The mother of Jesus was “translated unto life.”

This sign tells us: a “heaven” of pure spirits is not our last estate. Christians are not Platonists! The body is not the soul’s prison, a cocoon to be sloughed off for the “true self” to emerge like a butterfly. Plato was wrong: our true person, as God intended it, is not just soul, but also body. Salvation of the person means salvation of the body.

This sign tells us: through the resurrection of Jesus, each one of us will rise again in our body, restored, as we were also once conceived in our mother’s womb: as male or female. And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun (Rev. 12:1). Risen to glory, Mary is still Woman.

Certain ancient heretics, called Gnostics, believed that here was something to be overcome: in the kingdom of heaven, there would be no male and female, or perhaps women would become like men (Gospel of Thomas, logion 114). These Gnostics scorned marriage, and especially procreation. They sought liberation from the bonds of nature.

We still have our Gnostics today. Our Gnostics would like us to think of man and woman, mother and father, as interchangeable, shifting identities: not the Creator’s good and lasting design, but inventions of society, or plastic self-constructions.

But today the Church holds out to us a different vision. It is a sign to our age,

“a sign of contradiction” (Lk. 2:34).

“You were translated to life, O Mother of Life.”

This sign says: risen to glory, Mary is still Mother. In the bodily glorification of Mary, we are given an image, a pre-installment, of the glory of the Kingdom which we hope to inherit. It is fully embodied glory, wherein the beauty of created difference is preserved. A glory in which natural bonds of love will not be dissolved. A glory in which each of us will remain mother or father, and son or daughter, to someone. And to everyone who, like the beloved disciple, has rested a head upon the Lord’s bosom, or stood by his Cross in prayer, Christ will say:

“Son, behold thy Mother” (Jn. 19:27).

There is no human person more exalted than the Virgin Mary, the Panagia. And there is no greater title for her in our theological glossary than “Mother.” This should tell us something. This word, mother, extends far beyond physical childbearing. It names an all-encompassing human concern, a spiritual bond, a calling from God. This spiritual maternity, beyond blood offspring, is the gift and calling of every woman: married or unmarried; bearer of many, one or none.

It is a gift, of which every one of us — all humanity — is the blessed beneficiary. This is the good gift of our Creator — not our fashioning. And as today’s feast reminds us, it does not end in death.

Fr. Matthew Baker of blessed memory was a priest of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston and a PhD candidate in Systematic Theology at Fordham University.

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A Great Sign

 

The Transfiguration: The Gospel, the Law and the Prophets

 

transfiguration Gospel Law Prophets

by St. Augustine of Hippo

We heard, as the Gospel was read, the story of the great vision in which the Lord showed himself to three disciples, Peter and John and James.

“His face shone like the sun”

– this means the splendor of the Gospel.

“His clothes became as white as snow”

– that is to say, the purification of the Church, about which the Prophet said:

“Though your sins be red like crimson, I will make them white as snow” (Isaiah 1.18 ).

Moses and Elijah were talking with him, for the grace of the Gospel receives the witness of the Law and the Prophets. For Moses, one understoods the Law; for Elijah, the Prophets are meant. Peter suggested that they build three tents, one for Moses and one for Elijah, one for Christ. He liked the solitude of the mountain; he was bored of the tumult of human affairs. But why did he wish to make three tents? Did he not know that the Law, the Prophets and the Gospel come from the same origin? In fact he was corrected by the cloud.

“As he said this a bright cloud overshadowed them.”

So the cloud made one tent, so why would you want three? And a voice from the cloud said,

“This is my beloved Son: heed him” (Mt17.1 to 8).

Elijah speaks, but “listen to him.” Moses speaks, “but listen to him.” Prophets speak, the Law speaks, but “heed him”, the voice of the Law and the tongue of the Prophets. It was he who spoke through them, and then he spoke by himself, when he deigned to be manifested. “Hear him,” listen to him.

When the Gospel spoke, know who was the voice of the cloud; from there, it came to us. We hear him; do what he tells us. Let us hope what he promises.

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The Transfiguration: Gospel Law Prophets

The Transfiguration, the Manifestation of the Beloved Son

transfiguration

by St. Leo the Great

For the apostles, who really needed to be strengthened in faith and initiated into a knowledge of every thing, from that miracle comes another lesson. In fact, Moses and Elijah — the Law and the Prophets — appeared hobnobbing with the Lord. This happened so as to perfectly accomplish through the presence of five people what is written:

“Every word is confirmed, if delivered in the presence of two or threewitnesses “(Deut. 19.15 Mt 18:16).

To proclaim it, the two trumpets of the Old and New Testament resound in full agreement and everything needed to witness to it in ancient times is reunited with the teaching of the Gospel! The pages of both of Testaments, in fact, confirm each other, and he who was promised by the ancient symbols under the veil of mystery is now manifested by the blaze of his glory. It is He – as St. John would say:

“The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came to us through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1.17),

in whom has been fulfilled not only the promises by the prophetic figures, but also the meaning of the precepts of the Law , because, by his presence, he teaches the truth of prophecy, and by His grace, makes possible the practice of the commandments.

Inspired by the revelation of the mysteries and taken up by contempt and disgust for earthly things, the apostle Peter was in ecstasy at the desire of eternal things, and, filled with the joy of all this vision, wanted to live with Jesus, there where His glory was manifested. That’s why he said:

“Lord, it is good for us to be here if you want, we here three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Matt. 17.4).

But the Lord did not reply to this suggestion, certainly not to show that this desire was bad, but to signify that it was out of place. The world could not be saved without the death of Christ, you see. Thus, the Lord’s example calls on the faith of believers to understand that, no doubt against the promise of happiness, we must nevertheless, in the trials of this life, ask for patience before glory; the happiness of the kingdom can not, in fact, precede the time of suffering.

And so, while he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said,

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him” (Mt 17.5).

The Father, no doubt, was present in the Son, and in that light that the Lord had measured out to the disciples, the essence of Him who generates is not separated from the generated Only Begotten, but to highlight the proper characteristics of each Person, the Voice coming out of the cloud announced the Father to human ears, just as the splendor coming forth from the body revealed the Son to human eyes. When they heard the voice, the disciples fell face down, very frightened, trembling not only before the majesty of the Father, but also before that of the Son: through the motion of a deeper understanding in fact, they understood that the Divinity of both was unique. And since there was no hesitation in faith there was discretion in fear. That divine testimony was so wide and varied, and the power of words made them realize more than the sound of the voice can express.

In fact, when the Father says:

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to him,”

one should not perhaps understand clearly: “This is my Son,” for which to be “from me” and to be “with me” is a reality that is not time-bound? Neither is He who Generates prior to Him who is Generated; nor is the one Generated posterior to the One who Generates.

“This is my Son,” who does not take away from me my Divinity, nor does He divide power, nor eternity.

“This is my Son,” — He is not adopted, but really, not indeed created, but generated from me, no different in nature and made similar unto me. But He is of my very being and was born equal to me.

“This is my Son”, through whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made” (Jn 1.3): all that I do he also does it (Jn 5.19) and as I work, he works with me without a difference. In fact, the Father is in the Son just as the Son is in the Father (Jn 10:38), and our unity never separates. And though I the one who generates is different from the one generated, it is not however allowed to have a different opinion about him that one can have of me.

“This is my Son,” who did not count equality of with me something to be grasped at (Phil. 2.6), or to usurp, appropriating it for himself; rather, while remaining in the condition of his glory, he, to complete the design of the restoration of mankind, brought to humility the immutable Divinity to the condition of a servant.
To Him, therefore, in whom is all my pleasure, and whose teachings I manifest, whose humility glorifies me — listen to him without hesitation, for he is truth and life (Jn 14.6), he is my strength and my wisdom (1 Cor 1.24).

“Listen to Him,” he whom the Mysteries of the Law announced; whom the voice of the prophets sang about.

“Listen to Him,” he who has redeemed the world with his blood, who has chained the devil and who has snatched away the spoil(Matt. 12:29), who has torn up the document of our debts (Col. 2:14), and the covenant that oppressed us.

“Listen to Him,” he who opens the way to heaven, and with the agony of the cross, prepares there the stairs leading up to the Kingdom. Why are you afraid of being redeemed? Why are you afraid of being dissolved from your chains? Let it happen that, what I wish, Christ also wills. Throw away that carnal fear and arm yourself with the constancy that inspires faith. It is unworthy of you, in fact, to be afraid of what in the Lord’s passion you would not fear in death, with his help.

These things, beloved, were said not only for the good of those who heard it then with their ears. Rather, in the person of the three apostles, it is the whole Church which learns what they saw with their eyes and perceived with their ears. May it strengthen the faith of all according to the preaching of the holy Gospel, and let no one ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed. Consequently, let no one be afraid of suffering for righteousness (1 Peter 3.14), nor hesitate to receive the promised reward, because it is through labor that we are led rest, and life through death. In fact, he took upon himself the weakness of our own lowliness; and — if we stay with Him (Jn 15.9) in his confession and his love — we are winners of what he has won and will receive what he promised.

Whether it is then to perform the commandments or whether to endure the hardships of life, the voice of the Father which has sounded forth must always resound in our ears:

“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him”;

for He lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

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The Transfiguration, the Manifestation of the Beloved Son

On the Great Blessing of Waters

Blessing Theophany

by St. Sophronius of Jerusalem

O Trinity supreme in being, in goodness, and in Godhead, almighty, who watchest over all, invisible, incomprehensible, Maker of spiritual beings and rational natures, innate Goodness, Light that none can approach and that lightens every man that comes into the world: Shine also upon me Thine unworthy servant. Enlighten the eyes of my understanding that I may make bold to sing the praises of Thy measureless beneficence and Thy might. May the prayer be acceptable that I offer for the people here present. Let not my faults hinder Thy Holy Spirit from coming to this place, but suffer me now uncondemend to cry to Thee, O most good Lord, and to say:

We glorify Thee, O Master who lovest mankind, almighty, pre-eternal King. We glorify Thee, the Creator and Maker of all. We glorify Thee, O Only-begotten Son of God, born without father from Thy Mother, and without mother from Thy Father.

In the preceding feast we saw Thee as a child, while in the present we behold Thee full-grown, our God made manifest, perfect God from perfect God. For today the time of the feast is at hand for us: the choir of saints assembles with us and angels join with men in keeping festival.

Today the grace of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended upon the waters.

Today the Sun that never sets has risen and the world is filled with splendor by the light of the Lord.

Today the moon shines upon the world with the brightness of its rays. Today the glittering stars make the inhabited earth fair with the radiance of their shining.

Today the clouds drop down upon mankind the dew of righteousness from on high. Today the Uncreated of His own will accepts the laying on of hands from His own creature.

Today the Prophet and Forerunner approaches the Master, but stands before Him with trembling, seeing the condescension of God towards us. Today the waters of the Jordan are transformed into healing by the coming of the Lord.

Today the whole creation is watered by mystical streams. Today the transgressions of men are washed away by the waters of the Jordan.

Today Paradise has been opened to men and the Sun of Righteousness shines down upon us. Today the bitter water, as once with Moses and the people of Israel, is changed to sweetness by the coming of the Lord.

Today we have been released from our ancient lamentation, and as the new Israel we have found salvation. Today we have been delivered from darkness and illuminated with the light of the knowledge of God.

Today the blinding mist of the world is dispersed by the Epiphany of our God.

Today the whole creation shines with light from on high.

Today error is laid low and the coming of the Master has made for us a way of salvation.

Today things above keep feast with things below, and things below commune with things above.

Today the triumphant assembly of the Orthodox keeps this holy festival with great joy.

Today the Master hastens towards baptism that He may lift man up to the heights.

Today He that bows not, bows down to His own servant that He may set us free from bondage.

Today we have purchased the Kingdom of Heaven: for the Lord’s Kingdom shall have no end.

Today earth and sea share the joy of the world, and the world is filled with gladness.

The waters saw Thee, O God, the waters saw Thee and were afraid. The Jordan turned back, seeing the fire of the Godhead descending bodily and entering its stream. The Jordan turned back, beholding the Holy Spirit coming down in the form of a dove and flying about Thee. The Jordan turned back, seeing the Invisible made visible, the Creator made flesh, the Master in the form of a servant. The Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped, looking upon God in the flesh; and the clouds gave voice, marveling at Him who has come, the Light of Light, true God of true God.

For today in the Jordan they saw the triumph of the Master; they saw Him drown in the Jordan the death of disobedience, the sting of error, and the chains of hell, and bestow upon the world the baptism of salvation.

—St Sopronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, The Great Blessing of the Waters